CLIENT SATISFACTION was the decisive factor in the MERIT 2002 competition final at Loughborough University last week.
A record entry of 167 teams vied for the £2,000 per person training voucher prize, which was sensationally scooped by Balfour Beatty's Cymru Cabling & Construction. Wayne Rayner led the Cardiff team to victory, with help from Tim Finch, Andrew Gilpin and Justin Bevan.
'By concentrating on three industry sectors we were able to gain relationships with our clients that were classed as excellent - enabling us to win work at higher margins, ' explained surveyor Finch.
Many of the teams who entered back in November had played the game before or had 'real' management experience.
But after early rounds whittled down the hopefuls to the best half dozen teams, the leading team at the start of the two day final emerged as a couple of engineering graduates, an ergonomics student and the company receptionist playing for HSEC.
So impressed were the judges that a special award was presented to the HSEC team for being the most consistent performer, although it ended up in second place.
Sponsors for the event were the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions, the Construction Industry Training Board, the ICE, Balfour Beatty and Maunsell.
The sponsors' prize was awarded for the first time this year to the company whose top three teams averaged the best score. With two teams in the final, Halcrow looked odds on.
However, a suicidal tactic in the final stage of the early round allowed WS Atkins to take the plaudits - entering twice as many teams as any other company proving a shrewd tactic.
Previously thought to favour the contractors, the competition was relaunched in 2000 to enable all sectors to compete on a level footing. However, contractors still featured with the team from Amey Highways starting the final stage in third place. But with only two of the six man team able to be spared from site, they dropped to fifth spot.
Disaster also befell Fitzpatrick's Iris' Café Consortium, where inability to find the late bar the previous night preceded a nightmare final round which left them in fourth place.
Despite enforced sobriety the team remained positive. 'This whole competition was far more interesting and involving than the standard breed of training events. And as a result I think we have all got more out of it, ' said quantity surveyor Ronan Smith.
'I think it's the competitive nature of the game which makes it so successful, ' added MERIT project co-ordinator Mike Fletcher.
MERIT is a full time job for Fletcher who works to continually develop the simulation. 'We have games going on all over the world with even a Binnie, Black & Veatch team in Hong Kong waiting up all night with a laptop in the bar for the results.'
How it works
MERIT stands for management, enterprise, risk, innovation and teamwork, encapsulating the skills that the competition demands.
This year 167 teams entered and were sent trial software to practice their 'game'. Once the game begins teams compete via e-mail, although from next year the competition will run on-line.
In the game, each team takes the helm of a theoretical construction company that is one year old. The teams decide on what jobs to bid for, who to employ and how any cash is spent over a virtual three month period each week.
After eight such periods, competitors hope that they will sit in the top six and earn themselves a place in the grand final at Loughborough for an intense two day battle.
Here the simulation takes on a whole new tack. Methodical policies to beat the computer are cast aside as teams compete against each other to win projects at all costs.
Every round sees a new problem cast into the mix, and only the team with the strongest nerve will triumph.